Saturday, December 17, 2011

1Q84 discussion part 2

Okay, I'm not yet at the end of Part 2, I'm up to the beginning of Chapter 14 in the middle section but I have some notes to start us off with.

Page 328 - Tengo's girlfriend is obsessed with his balls. Always cupping, massaging his testicles.

Tengo is writing the story of Aomame. Disappearance of Fuka-Eri doesn't register in Aomame's world, also the novel Air Chrysalis about the Little People. Wouldn't it catch her (Aomame's) attention? [Later, it is referenced. I've just finished an Aomame chapter where she has had an extended conversation with a man she's been sent to kill; the leader of the cult. He talks about the Little People, talks about reality shifts and time shifts and I found it hard to follow.]

I've also got a note about Aomame's face, that there was a reference very early on about there being possibly something wrong with it, that she has to keep the expression neutral otherwise it will become frightening to people if they see it. I remember now this was an early hint (for me) that there was something strange about her, more strange perhaps than what has been revealed thus far about her character, history, thought processes.

I'm trying to find the description of her face and I'm re-reading the opening pages where she's in the taxi. I'm also listening to Janacek's Sinfonettia. Several things which I half noticed when first reading are now seeming more suggestive:

1. Aomame has no idea how she recognises the piece of music - Sinfonettia. While the text tells us she loves history as much as she loves sports, and that she doesn't read fiction, it's clear she knows about the Czech composer and his piece of music that is playing in the cab. As she listens to the music, she thinks

Why, though, Aomame wondered, had she instantly recognized the piece to be Janacek's Sinfonettia? And how did she know it had been composed in 1926? She was not a classical music fan, and she had no personal recollections involving Janacek, yet the moment she heard the opening bars, all her knowledge of the piece came to her by reflex, like a flock of birds sweeping through an open window. The music gave her an odd, wrenching kind of feeling. There was no pain or unpleasantness involved, just a sensation that all the elements of her body were being physically wrung out.

The mention above of no personal recollections makes me wonder whether there is some kind of collective memory at work here? Or has she begun her shift to another version of herself?

2. The taxi is described as no ordinary cab and there is no visible identity papers/card for the driver. When she asks him about the traffic jam, when she asks him how he knows it's an accident without listening to a traffic report, he says

You can't trust them... They're half lies The Expressway Corporationg only releases reports that suit its agenda. If you really want to know what's happening here and now, you've got to use your own eyes and your own judgment.

Shades of Big Brother here?

Then when she gets out of the car to go to the ladder, he says

... remember: things are not what they seem.


I've found the description of her face

A detailed examination of her face from the front would reveal that the size and shape of her ears were significantly different, the left one much bigger and malformed. No one ever noticed this, however, because her hair nearly always covered her ears. Her lips formed a tight straight line, suggesting that she was not easily approachable. Also contributing to this impression were her small, narrow nose, somewhat protruding cheekbones, broad forehead, and long, straight eyebrows. All of these were arranged to sit in a pleasing shape, however, and while tastes differ, few would object to calling her a beautiful woman. The one problem with her face was its extreme paucity of expression. Her firmly closed lips only formed a smile when absolutely necessary. Her eyes had the cool, vigilant stare of a superior deck officer. Thanks to these features, no one ever had a vivid impression of her face. She attracted attention not so much because of the qualities of her features but rather because of the naturalness and grace with which her expression moved. In that sense, Aomame resembled an insect skilled at biological mimicry. What she most wanted was to blend in with her background by changing colour and shape, to remain inconspicuous and not easily remembered. This was how she had protected herself since childhood.

Whenever something caused her to frown or grimace, however, her features underwent dramatic changes. The muscles of her face tightened, pulling in several directions at once and emphasizing the lack of symmetry in the overall structure. Deep wrinkles formed in her skin, her eyes suddenly drew inward, her nose and mouth became violently distorted, her jaw twisted to the side, and her lips curled back, exposing Aomame's large white teeth. Instantly she became a wholly different person, as if a cord had broken, dropping the mask that normally covered her face. The shocking transformation terrified anyone who saw it, so she was careful never to frown in the presence of a stranger. She would contort her face only when she was alone or when she was threatening a man who displeased her.

This frightening distortion of her face is intriguing, and since this passage on page 11 of my copy, there has been no further mention. Nor of her deformed ear, something else that is interesting. Will it become significant? In a book where so many other things are repetitively stated, Tengo's size and strength, Fuka-Eri's idiosyncrative speech patterns, the German Shepherd's penchant for raw spinach, the job of Tengo's father, all seemingly innocuous, why are these two things to do with Amomame's appearance mentioned once and once only?

I love it.


Page 331

There is a description of a business card. In Japan, business cards have surnames first and then given names but in this instance it's the other way round. Murakami would not make such a mistake? Was it in translation? Or deliberate? Sloppy?


Page 333

Creepy artistic grants worker Ushikawa tells Tengo that time and freedom are the most important things a person can buy with money. This is true for a writer, but is it true for other people?

Ushikawa visits the cram school, he's described like a shambolic type of Columbo character. I expected him to be a detective and was delighted when he was unexpectedly revealed to be a grants officer. Loved the unpredictability of this.


Alex said...

I saw your post this morning and thought "Brilliant. Won't take me long to get up to that part." But, between grocery shopping, cleaning and some annoying tech-support calls from rellies who knew I was getting back yesterday, I've only just caught up.

For a little while, Aomame's story being a creation of Tengo seemed obvious to me too, but I am now returning to the fence on that one.

Is it just me, or does the word "liquidate" seem out of place every time it gets used?

About Aomame's facial contortion; I seem to have noticed it being mentioned directly a few times and alluded to on several occasions. There is a bit where she is studying in the library (I think) and they it's mentioned that her contorted face is so hideous that it can make small children wet themselves. Also, every time she grimaces, she is careful to do it when nobody can see her face, and it usually says something about her massaging her features back into position afterwards. It's not hitting me over the head like Tengo's size, but I think it's been mentioned more times (though more subtly) than the spinach-eating dog.

I really liked Ushikawa. I think he will probably show up dead at some point.

I have no theory on the taxi-driver at the beginning and wouldn't be surprised if he didn't show up again. My best guess at this point is that he somehow represents the "forces" that oppose the Little People.

I don't think I found it all that hard to follow The Leader's spiel; mostly because I've seen these types of spiels many times before. You know when I said earlier about Japanese comics sometimes devolving into philosophical drivel -- well, this kind of looks a lot like what I was afraid of. I feel really frustrated right now. I was enjoying volume 2 way more than volume 1. All the description tourettes seemed to be done with and I was deeply immersed in the story and getting sucked along nicely and then this Leader character, as far as I can tell, shows up as a magic oracle to take a big smelly expositional shit in the middle of the narrative -- and it's all this rubbish about balance between the forces of good and evil and blah, blah, blah -- and then he pisses off.

I'm sorry if I'm coming off as unreasonably harsh on something you're really into. I know there's a long way to go and I really hope it's able to win me back. I want to be won back. How far are you along now?

Alex said...

Well book, if you were going to win me back, chapter 15 was not a good way to start.

... I bet the Little People will turn out to be tentacle monsters.

Alex said...

I meant chapter 14.

Melbourne Girl said...

I must have missed, or not retained, the bit in the library about her face making children wet themselves but I do remember references to Aomame having to put her face back into position.

Agree about The Leader stuff, it kind of was a big poo in the middle of the Floor.

Don't apologise for being critical of something I'm into, I can see the flaws too and I'm wondering why I am being so forgiving of it, it must be the story. Means I now have to go back to Anna Funder's All... book and give it another go.

Chapter 14?? In part 2?? I'm going to bed now to read, I'm up to the beginning of Chapter 17. So you mean the 'purification' scene? But isn't it fascinating? Why Fuka-Eri hasn't menstruated at 17????


So you're liking the side characters? What is it about Ushikawa you like? And what particularly about the Dowager's dude?

I confess I'm not enamoured with any of the characters which is interesting; when I love a book it's usually more about the characters than the plot but this for me is plot all the way, baby. And now the editor or whatever (Tokatsu?) has disappeared. Where is everyone going?

I also thought that about the taxi driver. He could possibly be the one to explain everything. If anything is explained.

Your comments about the manga stuff - I have never read any but I remember when I lived in Japan seeing all the Barry Businessmen reading their comics with (usually) girls with big boobs and short skirts etc. I remember doing laundry at the laundromat and looking at the pictures and being amazed at how porno they were and that men on the trains would read them so openly. The culture too of frottage on trains, and rubbing up against girls. I heard a story about a girl being ejaculated on in a crowded train and she just brought out a delicate hanky to wipe of the semen, not ever looking up at the man. I once intervened when I saw a man who'd backed a young woman into the wall and was silently harassing her. I just pushed in between them and gave him the dirtiest look. It's a fucking mad place.


Ooh, what will Part 3 bring?

Melbourne Girl said...

Also I haven't noticed the use of 'liquidate' a lot. It's funny what two different people notice and don't notice.

Thanks for coming along for the ride, Alex. I'm enjoying this. You can choose the next book? I'm okay with non-fiction...

Alex said...

Yes, the purification scene bugged me. It reminded me of the animated fantasy-porno tapes I used to see that all seemed to involved young girls having sex with monsters or older men under some sort of possession or some such. It also reminded me of movies from the 80s where they'd have to jam a sex scene in somewhere just so that the movie could have a sex scene.

Why hasn't Fuka menstruated at 17? I guess if her insides were as badly damaged as Tsubasa's, maybe she couldn't. But also, I'm guessing that whatever the Little People have been subjecting their "vessels" to, fundamentally changes them so they are no longer like normal people.

Why do I like Ushikawa? Well, generally I have a fondness for villains, and he's about the closest we've gotten so far. But also, I like the type of villain he is. He's not ridiculously arch or vile in character (if not appearance). I actually find his patheticness makes him kind of sympathetic -- and that is something I really dig in villains.

And Tamaru? Well, he fits a stereotype that I tend to glom onto: The unpredictable but highly capable second-stringer who is crucial to the story but ultimately expendable. Main characters are often limited in where they can be taken because the audience usually has to be able to identify/sympathise with them to some extent; but side characters don't have those limitations. Depending on how the story had gone, we could have just as easily had a predicament where Tamaru was out to kill Aomame. That may even happen yet. Also, it's quite hard to kill a main character off before the end of the story but side characters are expendable; so I always feel like they are slightly more "precious". On top of all that, I sensed from the beginning that Tamaru was going to do a fair bit of growing in ways that I might not readily expect -- and ultimately that is my favourite type of characters.

I've never had the opportunity to do this kind of analysis with someone with a book before and I am enjoying it immensely (a lot of the time, I get as much enjoyment from analysing things as I do consuming them). You are right about how what one person picks up on can be easily missed by another; but at the same time, if you've read a little bit more, you have to be careful not to give anything away. Maybe we need some sort of system to keep in sync. At any rate, I'll hold off on starting volume 3 until I hear from you.

Alex said...

I remember a few years ago seeing a news item about how sexual harassment on the trains was so prolific that they were introducing women-only carriages. It's bloody sad that things would have to come to that though.

And on the comics; while I've no idea which ones grown men tend to read, I've found they pretty much come in every possible genre and for every conceivable age group and level of maturity and sophistication. The breadth and depth of what's available is quite staggering. But still, you read enough and you start to see cliches and tropes becoming evident. What's surprised me is how much that has carried through into this novel.

Melbourne Girl said...

Well it's Sunday morning 11am and I am almost finished Part 2. I'm up to Chapter 21 and things are clearer.

I guess you have finished Part 2?

Now I'm up on the dohtas and mazas, which explains Fuka-Eri not menstruating (definitely) and not having pubic hair (possibly), also more about the two moons. And now that Tengo can see two moons it means an air chrysalis must have been made somewhere that we haven't seen so that now he has a dohta? Or is it possible that Aomame is his dohta? That weird thing with her face?

I'm clearer and more confused. Off to read more.

I'd say in about half an hour you can start Part 3, because that's what I'll be doing.

Melbourne Girl said...

PS Love your comments about the more minor characters.

And also on the comic book cliches and tropes, I wasn't sure if your surprise was laced with criticism and disappointment or more that you were impressed by it, but I guess it could run two ways: either the comics reflect what's going on in society (and therefore a novel set in such a society would suffer 'seepage' of such themes and conventions, or the other way around, ie Murakami has been exposed to comics his whole life and so the styles and themes have snuck in but I suspect not by accidental osmosis (? wonder whether a 'literary' writer would have spent a lot of time reading manga. I'm guessing yes, it's like a part of the culture, but it's just a guess).

I'd say it's possible it's deliberate, that he is just drawing on every influence and wrapping it all up into his own type of air chrysalis, pulling the threads out of the air, all the references to classic literature and music, even movies?, contemporary stuff, the evil henchmen type, the Leader, huge and menacing at first but then vulnerable and ambiguous, the sidekick, the kick-ass chick, the sensitive sensei type. The tits and dicks and balls is so manga.

I'm prepared to label this masterpiece but of course there's still a third to go.

I've just read the scene where Tengo is in the playground, he's climbed on to the slide to see the moon. He knows Aomame is somewhere close, I'm just waiting for her to look out of her window and see him on the street or in the playground.

Are you able to spend today on this project?

Alex said...

Well, no, not all day unfortunately. But if you're diving straight into volume 3, I will do the same.

Now you're finished volume 2, any thoughts on Tengo's origin? Remember that they were trying to create an heir with Leader -- which suggests that being a receiver is hereditary -- and Tengo's dad said that his mum joined herself with a void. And that memory he has is from a third person perspective. Could all this be going somewhere? Where?

Alex said...

And the surprise wasn't really laced with anything. As you suggest, it was kind of a realisation that those conventions probably permeate all aspects of Japanese fiction to some degree, and possibly wider society, rather than just being comic-specific.

Of course, basing this hypothesis on reading one book is a bit flimsy. It makes me curious though.

Melbourne Girl said...

I hadn't considered Tengo's paternity but makes sense. Obviously he is some sort of receiver but I haven't been able to establish when/if a shift happened because he obviously remembers the single moon.


Part 3 so far seems completely without the 'magical realism' (for want of a better term) of Parts 1 and 2. Tengo is now spending a lot of time in cat town where his father is in hospital. He has just had a night on the town with three nurses from the hospital (shades of the three 'handmaiden' types that were referred to, who were close to Leader.)

And what's with the no definite article, why just Leader rather than The Leader? It jars me every time I read it.


NHK worker(s) now re-entering significantly and you Uchikawa is pretty much a detective, yes?

Where are you up to?

Melbourne Girl said...

I don't want to comment any more until I know where you're up to.

Will keep reading and come back later.

Alex said...

Only up to chapter 2. Phone calls and other distractions.


Little People Theories:

Since this may or may not be the last time we get to do this before one of us finishes the book, I thought it might be fun to post some theories and then see what bits turn out to be closest to the truth. Provided we get an actual explanation.

The way that the Little People are described as being able to grow or reduce in number and don't have any discernible physical qualities, I'm guessing they are a single entity or force. I'm also guessing that they are some manifestation of the collective human will or subconscious trying to directly influence the material world. Somebody with special properties (perceiver) is able to tap into that force, manifesting in passageways and such (not everyone seems to be able to see them or their work; what comes out of the chrysalises seems to be yanked from people's minds and is "without substance") and somebody with a different set of mental properties (receiver) is able to be used by that force to exert real physical change on the material world -- Leader levitating the clock, the switch from 1984 to 1Q84.

What you reckon?

Alex said...

It also just struck me the way that the professor was talking about the growth of Sakigake and how many people are drawn in by the prospect of not having to think for themselves. Also, The Little People can only directly attack "the weak". Maybe meaning, those sort of people without a determination to think for themselves, perhaps?

Melbourne Girl said...

Hm I don't know I'm getting close to the end now, am taking notes but will wait until we've both finished to put them here.

I wondered about some collective memory thing, and the bit about shadow and light, like good and evil. Aomame now realises she believes in God which is kind of weird/interesting and there has been an immaculate conception.

I really really hope it doesn't get Goddy and stays weird and more in the sci fi/fantasy realm. How would you describe this book in terms of genre?

Will come back once I've finished.

Gotta take the dog for a walk.

Melbourne Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melbourne Girl said...

Haven't finished yet, caught up watching stuff on tv.

Tomorrow will start the Part 3 post.

Alex said...

I just managed to properly settle in with it not too long ago. Will probably read until I fall asleep -- which may not be too hard. Volume 3 seems to be quite slow and spending a lot of time going over stuff we've already covered. I'm finding it a little dull at the moment.

Melbourne Girl said...

Me too. There were a few dull chapters especially the Ushikawa ones I thought.

Going to bed now, will read but not sure for how long.